s an educator of 27 years, I wonder why No Child Left Behind includes a requirement about military recruitment of students. What does this have to do with school improvement?
Hard to find in the 700-page No Child Left Behind Act is Section 9528, which requires that schools receiving federal funding under provide military recruiters with names, home phones, and addresses of juniors and seniors. These are the students the military considers eligible and ready for recruitment.
Parents can "opt-out" of this recruitment system by informing the school that they do not wish to have their child's private contact information released to the military. Schools provide a form, which makes this easy as long as the parents read the form and return it to the school. That form has generated interest recently, with some claiming that the form is buried in a mountain of paperwork delivered to parents at the beginning of the school year. Some say only the very diligent even see the form.
There is a current movement to print the "opt-out" statement on student emergency cards, which must be completed and turned in at the beginning of every school year for every student. This change is currently under consideration in many school districts in an effort to see that all parents and students have a clear opportunity to keep their personal contact information private.
There have been several related local events reported recently regarding military recruitment. The events include tales of military recruiters and peace activists having something of a competition at job fairs to win the hearts and minds of young people.
There is special criticism reserved for military recruiters who aggressively target those students least likely to continue their education after graduation. It is understood that if you have been admitted to a fine university, your future looks rosy and the military is not a tempting option. However, if you are just scraping by to graduate and see your career options as extremely limited, the military is there, sometimes seeming to be the only employment option. Minority students are thought to be special targets for overzealous recruiters trying desperately to sign-up young people although there is much denial from recruiters about the very existence of quotas.
For example, from the pages of the Register-Pajaronian, a recruiter was quoted as saying, "We are so over-manned right now we're not really focusing on getting more people." This flies in the face of the military still not meeting recruitment targets, even though these targets have been reduced, prompting a cartoonist to quip, "An army of none!"
A recruiter told the Los Angeles Times, "We certainly don't discount any school. But if 95% of kids in that area go on to college, a recruiter is going to decide where the best market is. Recruiters need to prioritize."
Tales of overzealous recruiting efforts also pepper the national news. There is a "School Recruiting Program Handbook," which advises recruiters to bring donuts for the school staff once a month; chaperone dances; help with the football teams; and "be so helpful and so much a part of the school scene that you are in constant demand." These recruiting techniques include stating that the recruit has only a 50% chance of actually being sent to war.
There are also reports that recruiters arrive in a Humvee painted with orange flames and blasting rap music. The recruiters stand outside the vehicle offering T-shirts reading "Yo soy el Army" (I am the Army) to students who sign up, stimulating one student to write in the student newspaper an article titled, "Yo no soy el Army."
The other evening a local resident said he saw this Humvee at Santa Cruz High School parked outside of a bilingual classroom. On that day the words "Yo soy el army" were written on the Humvee in letters two-feet tall. The man commented, "Who do you think they are trying to recruit?"
Parent protests have become the largest "boulder" of opposition to military recruitment of high school students, according to news reports. Promises of "seeing the world" or getting the coveted job as a military musician, and using baseballs as stand-ins for hand grenade fantasy-play have angered parents.
Some say help is on the way. Representative Mike Honda, (D) Campbell, has introduced HR552, the "Student Privacy Protection Act," legislation that would change the NCLB requirement to an "opt-in" system. Information would then be released to the military if and only if parents state they wish it to be.
As an educator who has objected to much of NCLB, this may soon be the one aspect of NCLB that has been fixed. If so, may it be only the first of many changes that will make NCLB the sensible accountability system our schools need without the damaging side effects.
Sandra Nichols is a trustee and past president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 19,700 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with the Santa Cruz City School District, and a former commissioner on the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication, or web site.
© Sandra Nichols 2005